I was mindful that Calista’s third birthday would happen while we were on the road and wanted to make an effort to mark the day — no matter where we were. As it has turned out, Cali’s birthday has been a truly memorable day for a little girl!

We were parked outside the Swamp Palace when cars started arriving about 10 am. Garden ornaments were set up outside, tables were erected within the hall, and soon it was buzzing with activity.

David volunteered to blow up balloons, and I tied lengths of string to them. Someone hung brightly coloured mosquito-nets in one corner above some scattered cushions, creating a soft reading nook.

Fairy Festival, March 2011
In the centre of the hall, a circle of toadstools provided the perfect setting for dancing around.

While the tables were being set up, musicians set up mics, amps and speakers on the stage. Clearly, this was a well-organised event, and I was surprised to hear that it was entirely the initiative of a seven-year-old girl and her supportive parents.

Nathan playing guitar, March 2011
Nathan Low was the main guitarist, improvising background music to add to the ambience.

Bob Jones on ukulele, March 2011
Legendary bluegrass musician Bob Jones is a local, and he jammed with Nathan up on stage.

The festival day officially opened with a brief welcome and an announcement of the various activities on offer. Our girls (like most of the rest of the children in the hall) were immediately enticed by the opportunity to decorate cupcakes, but because the table was crowded, I shepherded them outside to blow bubbles instead.

Aisha, Brioni and Calista making bubbles at the Fairy Festival, March 2011
One of the activities outside was bubble-making.

Aisha, Brioni and Calista decorating cupcakes at the Fairy Festival, March 2011
The girls loved squeezing different colours onto their plain cupcakes — and then they got to eat their creations!

Jessie making leaf crowns, March 2011
Unschooling mum Jessie helped out at the festival — weaving fairy crowns from hibiscus leaves and then securing them on the children's heads with rainbow ribbon. It looked beautiful!

Seven-year-old Tui was the organiser of the event. She rang up all the helpers and asked them to participate. (Her mum Clare was a great support to Tui's homeschooling project — it was such a success! We now wonder what Tui will be organising in the years to come!)

Our girls soon tasted their own snacks from the home-made wares on sale. It felt delightful to be surrounded by friendly people at such a memorable activity!

Calista with a toffee apple, March 2011
When the girls asked for a toffee apple, I sent them to David (the keeper of the purse), and he gladly indulged them. What a terrific way for a three-year-old to celebrate her birthday!

We made our way around the hall’s activities, stopping in the kitchen for a cuppa. It was easy to meet and talk to the parents who attended.

So many of the people in the hall came up to introduce themselves. We received many heartfelt offers to come and visit them at their homes. I filled a page in my notebook with the contact details of friendly locals.

On several recommendations, it seemed that Johnny and Nate’s place (La Hacienda) behind the Bush Fairy Dairy was the first obvious port-of-call for us. Nathan (who has been playing on stage) lives in a housebus, and Johnny lives in the small house on the land while his own dwelling is being constructed.

When we arrived at the property, Johnny offered us the paddock next door where a caravan and annexe, composting toilet and outside shower were already set up. We parked the truck with mounting glee — surely we were receiving a generous slice of paradise as our temporary home!

After we parked our truck, we headed over to the main house, crossing a grassy stretch, stepping over a little bridge and rounding the corner to the verandah. Our girls were delighted to discover a corner full of toys in the living room of La Hacienda. “You have better toys than a household with kids,” David remarked wryly.

It’s true. Every toy is thoughtful chosen, made with natural materials and styled for open-ended imaginary play. The toys form part of the collection of resources for a Steiner-based playgroup that meets at La Hacienda each Monday.

That night, La Hacienda became the centre of a community jam session. Singers and other musicians turned up, dropping off food to the house before moving into the shed where a proper stage, complete with drum kit, mics and amps is set up.

One lady arrived with chocolate cupcakes. As Calista still hadn’t blown out three candles as her self-declared birthday requisite. I asked if there were any birthday candles in the house. There weren’t, but La Hacienda is next door to the Bush Fairy Dairy, and a woman who had the keys offered to go over there and purchase some. She came back with hand-rolled beeswax candles that worked perfectly.

We gathered around Calista, sang the ritual song and publicly marked the beginning of another year in her fun-filled life!

Calista, 3 years old, March 2011
We celebrated officially with beeswax candles in vegan chocolate cupcakes. (Calista was too timid to blow out her candles, so her sisters helped her.)

As our girls entered into their intense play realms, David enjoyed the music in the shed. Johnny stayed in the house, confiding that he wasn’t so passionate about music and was thoroughly entertained by the girls’ performances instead.

When it got very late, we said good-night and headed to our own private campsite about fifty metres away. We felt warmly welcomed — not only by our hosts but also by the other locals we met at La Hacienda — and we look forward to making this a base as we visit all our new friends in this area!